On Feb 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “special military operation” against Ukraine, stating its goal is to “protect people who have been subjected to bullying and genocide… for the last eight years,” referring to the war in the Donbass region of Ukraine that has been ongoing since 2014, though Ukraine dismisses the allegations of genocide. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began on the same day.
Kyiv’s main airport was hit in the first wave of attacks, followed by explosions being heard within Kyiv itself the next day. Fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces continued throughout the Kyiv Oblast (province). As of April 1, Russia has stated they would scale down operations in the region. NATO claims that Russia is really regrouping, while Ukraine claims that Russia is losing ground rather than withdrawing on their own.
Mariupol, a Ukraine-controlled city in Donetsk, is currently under siege by Russia. Parts of the city were shelled, and it has since lost power, gas and running water. On March 14, Russia agreed to a humanitarian corridor to allow civilians to evacuate. Following this, Russian forces entered the center of Mariupol. Moscow called for Ukrainian forces to surrender, saying they will be given safe passage out of the city, but Ukraine refuses. As of March 30, an estimated 290,000 people have left while 170,000 remain trapped. A Ukrainian presidential advisor has said that half of the city is under Russian control.
The conflict, as of writing, is still ongoing, with this invasion being an escalation of the Russo-Ukrainian War that began in 2014 following Ukraine’s Maidan Revolution, in which protests were sparked by the pro-Russian then-President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to not sign an agreement that would’ve brought the European Union and Ukraine closer, as well as the corruption within the administration at the time. The Maidan Revolution resulted in the ousting of Yanukovych, the overthrow of the previous government and pro-Russian unrest throughout Ukraine.
In March 2014, Russia annexed Crimea, a part of Ukraine with an ethnic Russian majority. Crimea held a referendum in which they voted to leave Ukraine and join Russia, though this referendum was deemed by the European Union as “contrary to the Ukrainian Constitution and international law.”
On May 2, 2014, tensions between pro-and anti-Maidan protestors erupted in the city of Odessa. Fighting occurs in the streets, with both sides reported to have been using “improvised incendiaries (bottles and rockets).” Present on the pro-Maidan side are armed militants from Right Sector, a far-right paramilitary group. The clash in Odessa culminates in anti-Maidan protestors being forced to retreat into the Trade Unions House, which was then set on fire.
Since April 2014, active fighting has been ongoing in the Donbass region of Ukraine, between the Russian-backed separatist forces of Donetsk and Lugansk, which have large ethnic Russian populations and seek to secede from Ukraine, and the Ukrainian military. On March 25, 2022, Russia stated it would “focus our core efforts on achieving the main goal, the liberation of Donbass.”
Putin, in a phone call to the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, listed out his demands for a peace deal with Ukraine. He called for Ukraine to be neutral and not join NATO, for Ukraine to undergo a disarmament process, for a protection in Ukraine for the Russian language and for Ukraine to go through “de-Nazification.” Putin also expressed his wishes to meet face-to-face with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to discuss the issues of the Donbass region.
Chester Rzadkiewicz, Ph.D., who teaches Russian history at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, spoke on how Russia’s invasion could have possibly been prevented if there had been a concession to their list of demands given in December of last year.
“No NATO expansion to Ukraine. And they also wanted missiles, any NATO missiles removed from the border,” Rzadkiewicz said. “The big thing was keeping Ukraine out of NATO, and also protecting the people living in Lugansk and Donetsk. Again, populated with millions of ethnic Russians.”
He added that Russia perceived the prospect of Ukraine joining NATO as an existential threat.
“Well for one thing, it would reduce the warning time for missiles to reach Moscow,” Rzadkiewicz said. “The Russians, they feel very threatened by missiles on their borders. And rightfully so.”
Rzadkiewicz also touched on the escalation of war in the Donbass region as sparking the invasion.
“But when the Ukrainians picked up their assault on Lugansk and Donetsk, that was like the last straw. Something had to be done, they had to be stopped,” Rzadkiewicz said.
He added that he did not feel Russia’s intentions were to take over Ukraine.
“It’ll be a huge problem if Russia wants to take over Ukraine and reincorporate it back into Russia like in the old Soviet days,” Rzadkiewicz said. “I don’t think the Russians want that. I think it would be crazy. They want something on paper, they want a settlement.”
Putin has also stated that he wants to de-Nazify Ukraine. Despite Zelensky being Jewish, Ukraine has a noted neo-Nazi presence. The Azov Battalion, a Ukrainian neo-Nazi former paramilitary group, is currently a unit of Ukraine’s National Guard and has been active throughout the conflict, particularly in defending Mariupol.
America’s response to the war has largely been to provide humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, to sanction Russia and to have the private sector pull out from the country. US President Joe Biden, in a speech in Warsaw, spoke on the effects of these sanctions on the Russian economy.
“The private sector is acting as well. Over 400 private multinational companies have pulled out of doing business in Russia — left Russia completely — from oil companies to McDonald’s,” Biden said. “The economy is on track to be cut in half in the coming years. It was ranked — Russia’s economy was ranked the 11th biggest economy in the world before this evasion — invasion. It will soon not even rank among the top 20 in the world.”
These sanctions have impacted Russian citizens, most of all through severe inflation.
“It takes about 200 rubles to equal one dollar,” Biden said to applause.
Prices for consumer goods have increased by 2.2%, with food among the highest price hikes. Electronics and appliances have also risen dramatically in price, with the average cost of smartphones and televisions increasing by over 10%, in addition to major companies, such as Apple, stopping sales to the country.
Rzadkiewicz expressed his issues with America’s sanctions and how it’s damaging to the US and the rest of the world.
“Our sanctions can be devastating. They hurt us too. And I think the kind of sanctions we’ve laid on Russia is damaging to the world economy,” Rzadkiewicz said. “We’re literally stealing money too with these sanctions. We’re cutting off access to bank reserves and stuff. And it’s war by other means.”
Daniil Katerynchuck currently attends UL Lafayette and was born in Kyiv, Ukraine. Katerynchuck moved to the United States in 2019 to go to school and pursue a major in mechanical engineering.
When news surfaced of the conflict, Katerynchuck found it difficult to get through the first week of hearing about it.
“I was depressed and sometimes I didn’t even have the strength or desire to go grab something to eat,” Katerynchuck said. “I wanted to be completely isolated, and I spent Mardi Gras reading the news all day long. I was very concerned for my family and friends and their safety.”
After hearing about it, Katerynchuck tried to stay in touch with his family. His sister, mother and grandparents decided to go to Germany where there’s family, however, his father had to stay in Kyiv because of Ukraine’s policy which prohibits men between the ages of 18 and 60 to leave the country. His family in Germany is currently applying for refugee status.
Katerynchuck shared how he can feel helpless during this time, but his family constantly reminds him that the best way to help is by doing what he set out to do when he went to college.
“We talk everyday, and that gives me strength. But sometimes I feel like I’m not helping enough,” Katerynchuck said. “The biggest help and support that I could do right now for my family right now is to find a summer internship, and then find a job after my graduation so that I can financially help the family.”
Katerynchuck continues to battle various concerns, both internationally and locally. He talked about his worry about Putin’s use of nuclear war and nuclear weapons and the Russian army’s potential actions of destruction to the Chernobyl nuclear power plants which can cause a tremendous release of radiation throughout Europe.
Along with that, Katerynchuck worries about what’s to come with him when the semester ends. He’s currently looking for a place to stay since he can’t go back to Ukraine, and he’s trying to find ways to handle paying for tuition.
According to Katerynchuck, although he’s excelling academically, he’s having trouble finding enjoyment in his social events and interests like soccer, festival going, basketball and guitar playing.
“I feel like this guilt that while I attend festivals right now, there are like people dying in my country,” Katerynchuck said. “So I simply can’t enjoy it as much as I used to.”
With everything going on, Katerynchuck still confirms that he feels safe at the university and encourages people to speak with their political leaders about the current conflict. He also encourages people to look for trust funds and charities to donate to. Katerynchuck and his father are working together to try to find sponsors to help provide materials such as radios, armor plates and vision devices to the Territorial Defense Force of Kyiv.